I have been listening to some music by Lau’s Kris Drever of late.
One song has stuck with me- writen by Kris’s brother, all about the fate of the 17th C Covenanters after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679.
It seems all the more poignant a song in the wake of the recent Independence referendum, reminding us of the mess of politics and religion that gave birth to the Union of the United Kingdom. Some people remember the Covenanters as Godly heroes who stood up for truth against oppression. At the time they were seem more in the way we would see the Taliban fighting Jihad. Disenfranchised people in the grip of religion that proclaims truth whilst entirely missing the point.
The so called ‘English’ Civil war involved many thousands of Scottish soldiers fighting on both sides, but most tellingly on the side of the Parliament. Many of these were lowland Scots who saw themselves as fighting a Holy war to free Presbytarian Scotland of all Popery and Catholicism. There was some skulduggery along the way though- the Covenanters switched sides for a while and eventually invaded the North of England but were defeated at the Battle of Preston. After the Civil war, they were eventually defeated in Scotland by a Parlimentary army under Cromwell. The trouble did not end there though, as after the Resoration of the Crown, Charles II did not remember the deal he had made with the Covenanters.
Following the restoration of Episcopacy rebel ministers began to preach at secret open-air meetings in the countryside known as ‘conventicles’ A period of sustained persecution began. Oppressive measures against these illegal field assemblies where attendance was made a capital offence led to an outbreak of armed rebellion in 1666, originating in Galloway. Advancing from the west towards Edinburgh, a small force of badly armed Covenanters was defeated at theBattle of Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills, a location which caused the whole tragic episode to be misleadingly named the Pentland Rising. To quell unrest in south-west Scotland, the government brought in 6,000 Highland soldiers, described by its enemies as an “inhumane and barbarous Highland host” which was quartered on suspected Covenanters and was accused of committing many atrocities.
A further rebellion broke out in 1679, after the unexpected success of a group of covenanters, armed with pitch forks and the like, against government forces led by John Graham of Claverhouse at the Battle of Drumclog. For a time the authorities looked in danger of losing control of the south west of Scotland, as more and more people joined the rebel camp at Bothwell near Glasgow; but only a few weeks after Drumclog the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Bothwell Brig. In the weeks before the battle the Covenanters spent more time arguing among themselves than preparing for the inevitable counterstroke, which did much to contribute towards their downfall. Of 1,200 captured rebels taken to Edinburgh, some 400 were imprisoned in an area of Greyfriars Kirkyard over the winter months.
It was the survivors of the Greyfriar Kirkyard that found themselves shipped off as slaves in the fateful ship ‘The Crown of London’. There is more of the story here.
This from here;
So, in November 1679, these unfortunates were lead on to a ship, the Crown of London, in Leith, where they were to be transported to English plantations in America to become slaves.
The site of the wreck of the Crown in December 1679.
Under the command of one Captain Patterson, the Crown of London set sail in December 1679.
The captain’s planned course is unknown, but the ship’s first port of call was Orkney where, on December 10, 1679, she sheltered from a storm off Scarvataing, a headland in the parish of Deerness, a mile or two from the sheltered bay of Deer Sound.
In gales typical of the season, the ship was driven on to rocks after her anchor chain snapped. The captain and crew escaped the doomed vessel by hacking down the ship’s mast and clambering across it to reach land.
The prisoners, however, were not so fortunate.
They had been confined to the hold and the hatches battened down under the captain’s orders. The reasoning behind this act was simple – the captain would be paid for the number of slaves on board the vessel and recompensed for those who died on the voyage. He would receive nothing for an escaped prisoner.
So, when the ship left port, Patterson took steps to make sure none did.
One member of crew did attempt a rescue by breaking through the deck with an axe. His valiant efforts meant that around 50 prisoners escaped and made it to the Deerness shore.
The remainder perished as the ship broke up and sank. It is said that over the following days, bodies washed up over three miles of the Deerness coastline.
Why do these things matter?
They are part of what made our nation. Upheavals that led to the death of thousands. Power ebbing and flowing, rebellious ideas flaring and then being snuffed out. Religion being employed as a cutting edge. And in the middle of it all cruel powerful forces use small people to achieve their own ends…
The peaceful democratic process of the recent referendum seems such a blessed contrast.
We would do well to honour this process- no matter whether we are saddened or relieved by the outcome. Let the killing times be at the back of our minds- after all, not so far away, just across the Irish sea, they never quite stopped…
Here is the song;